Hank Ilesic - Punter - 1977-82 - St. Joseph's (High School)
When was the last time a 17 year old entered pro sports and in short order went on to become a champion? Further to that impressive feat how about 6 straight championship seasons in the first 7 seasons of a career?
Enter Edmonton native and punting phenom Hank Ilesic.
Hank was the greatest punter of his era, a throwback to the strong-legged kickers of the 1930’s and 1940’s. He not only punted, but kicked and did kick-offs. He was an old-school straight-ahead kicker instead of today’s soccer-style kickers.
Hank’s career began with the Edmonton Eskimos when he was signed out of St. Joseph’s high school in Edmonton at the tender age of 17 in 1977. His kicking was a key component to the Eskimos record-setting 5 consecutive Grey Cup championships (1978-82). A salary dispute soured the Eskimos on Ilesic and what they deemed to be unreasonable demands.
In 1983, Hank was shipped to the Toronto Argonauts where he won another Grey Cup ring his 6th straight championship from his second season. Ilesic remained with the Argos until 1989 when he moved on to the National Football League and the San Diego Chargers. He spent 1 productive season in San Diego with an impressive 40.1 punting average. After 1 year on the practice roster with the Los Angeles Rams in 1990 Ilesic was out of football until 1993 when he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ilesic would play in Steeltown until 1995 when he retired for the first time.
In 1998, Hank came out of retirement to play briefly for the BC Lions. He did the same in 2001 when he unretired again to play for the Eskimos. And finally, in 2005, the Ottawa Renegades called and Hank joined their practice squad but didn’t play any games with the team. This was at age 45 when he made his CFL debut at age 17 and incredible 28 year span.
Hank ended his career being ranked number 3 in punting yardage all-time in the CFL with 91,753 yards. In the 1986 season alone he punted for 8,004 yards, second most in a single season in CFL history. He was a Grey Cup champion 7 times and is 8th all-time in regular season CFL games played with 259. His 19 seasons ranks him fourth all-time in that regard. And he ranks 5th all-time for single points in the regular season with 185 – many of them coming from his tremendous kick-offs.
Tom Barrasso joined the Buffalo Sabres in 1984 out of high school and went on to win the Vezina trophy as an 18 year old. Ilesic can definitely be counted as the Canadian Football equivalent.
Fantastic TSN feature on Ilesic linked here: